Mereka Mengundang Bahaya Agar Kita Dapat Lena

Salah sebuah pesawat Bombardier CL-415MP dari dua buah yang dimiliki Maritim Malaysia, bersiap sedia untuk melakukan rondaan maritim malam.

Setiap hari selama lima hari dalam minggu pertama bulan Disember 2020, secara puratanya kapal Maritim Malaysia KM Malawali telah mengusir sebanyak 36 buah bot nelayan Indonesia dari perairan negeri Perak. Begitulah cabaran yang dihadapi oleh pihak Maritim Malaysia negeri Perak khususnya dalam era pandemik COVID-19 ini.

Di sebelah Barat Laut Semenanjung Malaysia pula, kemungkinan para penyeludup gunakan laluan laut untuk menyeludup masuk dan keluar barangan juga kian bertambah setelah Agensi Keselamatan Sempadan Malaysia (AKSEM) ketatkan lagi kawalan di sempadan Utara Semenanjung berikutan kejadian tembak-menembak dengan para penyeludup yang telah mengorbankan seorang anggota Pasukan Gerakan Am, Polis DiRaja Malaysia akhir bulan lepas.

Pandemik COVID-19 telah mengakibatkan pengangguran pada skala yang besar bukan sahaja di negara ini, malah juga di negara-negara jiran. Dalam bulan Ogos 2020 sahaja, seramai 2.67 juta orang pekerja di Indonesia telah hilang pekerjaan, menjadikan keseluruhan jumlah pengangguran sejak bermulanya wabak ini kepada 29.12 juta orang.

Dalam bulan yang sama, sebuah laporan yang dihasilkan bersama oleh Bank Pembangunan Asia (ADB) dan Pertubuhan Buruh Antarabangsa (ILO) menyatakan bahawa wabak COVID-19 akan menyebabkan di antara 1,117,000 dan 1,675,000 orang akan hilang pekerjaan di Bangladesh dalam tahun ini sahaja.

Perairan Malaysia bukan sahaja terbuka kepada cabaran Pendatang Asing Tanpa Izin (PATI) dari kedua-dua buah negara tersebut yang ingin mencari peluang pekerjaan serta mengambil kesempatan ke atas program Rekalibrasi PATI yang diumumkan baru-baru ini, tetapi juga kepada para penjenayah serta penyeludup dari negara jiran.

Buktinya jelas apabila Maritim Malaysia Negeri Pulau Pinang berjaya menahan satu percubaan menyeludup masuk dadah jenis Methamphitamine dan Ecstasy pada jam 8.20 malam, 3 Disember 2020 baru-baru ini.

Pengarah Maritim Pulau Pinang Kepten (M) Abd Razak Mohamed berkata ini merupakan rampasan dadah terbesar di negeri Pulau Pinang tahun ini. Setelah berlakunya aksi kejar-mengejar di laut selama lebih kurang 30 minit, dua orang individu ditahan bersama sebuah bot yang dipacu dua buah enjin sangkut dengan kekuatan 500 kuasa kuda bernilai RM150,000, manakala hablur kristal dadah yang dirampas adalah di anggar seberat 240 kilogram dengan nilai anggaran sebanyak RM10.53 juta. Ini menjadikan nilai rampasan pada malam tersebut berjumlah RM10.68 juta.

Pada 1 Disember 2020, sebuah pesawat sayap kaku jenis Bombardier CL-415MP milik Maritim Malaysia telah melakukan rondaan malam di perairan Utara pantai Barat Semenanjung Malaysia. Kawasan rondaan pesawat ini yang dipandu oleh Leftenan Komander (M) Yusni bin Sari dengan dibantu oleh Leftenan Komander (M) Mohammad Azli bin Razali selaku pembantu juruterbang merangkumi perairan negeri-negeri Perlis, Kedah (termasuk Pulau Langkawi dan Pulau Perak), Pulau Pinang, dan Perak (termasuk Pulau Jarak) iaitu sebuah kawasan berkeluasan 7200 batu nautika persegi.

Rondaan seumpama ini dilakukan untuk mempertingkatkan Kesedaran Penguasaan Maritim (Maritime Domain Awareness) – atau MDA, pihak Maritim Malaysia khusunya, dan seluruh pasukan keselamatan amnya. Peningkatan MDA hanya boleh dilakukan dengan mengumpul maklumat mengenai semua jenis kapal, bot dan apa jua aktiviti maritim yang berada dalam perairan Malaysia, dan kemudiannya dirujuk bersama maklumat yang dikumpulkan oleh lain-lain agensi keselamatan, dianalisa dan dijadikan asas serta rujukan untuk operasi-operasi yang bakal dilakukan di masa hadapan.

Pengumpulan data dan maklumat serta rakaman video dan gambar-gambar dilakukan oleh Leftenan Komander (M) Mohd Hafizi bin Mohd Nor selaku Air Surveillance Operator (ASO) atau Pegawai Sistem Operasi Udara penerbangan tersebut. Dua orang anak kapal iaitu Bintara Kanan (M) Jamaludin bin Masri dan Laskar Kanan (M) Mohd Faizul bin Mat Yamme membantu pengoperasian pesawat.

Ternyata perairan Malaysia menjadi tumpuan bot nelayan asing (BNA) apabila pesawat mengesan kehadiran 43 buah BNA yang sedang rancak melakukan aktiviti penangkapan ikan lebih 8 batu nautika ke dalam perairan negeri Perak, lebih kurang 31 batu nautika ke arah Barat Laut dari Pulau Jarak. Leftenan Komander (M) Mohd Hafizi dengan segera berhubung dengan kapal ronda KM Malawali yang dinakhodai oleh Pegawai Memerintah Bertugas, Leftenan Komander (M) Fadzliana binti Fadzil, yang kemudiannya telah berkejar ke lokasi untuk tindakan pengusiran. KM Malawali telah mengiringi kumpulan BNA tersebut sehingga mereka kembali berada di dalam perairan negara mereka sendiri.

Kapal Maritim Malawali menjadi benteng utama penghindaran PATI dan lain-lain anasir di perairan negeri Perak

Walaupun merupakan para juruterbang yang amat berpengalaman, Leftenan Komander (M) Yusni dan Leftenan Komander (M) Mohammad Azli tetap berhadapan dengan risiko-risiko penerbangan malam seperti kekeliruan ruang (spatial disorientation) dan persekitaran penglihatan yang merosot (degraded visual environment) ketika membuat penerbangan waktu malam walaupun dalam keadaan cuaca penglihatan (Visual Meteorological Condition atau VMC). Ini adalah kerana amat mudah untuk terkeliru di antara kegelapan laut dan langit. Biarpun terdapat bintang-bintang di langit, namun lampu-lampu bot-bot dan kapal-kapal juga boleh mengelirukan keadaan, terutamanya apabila juruterbang perlu terbang dengan rendah seperti pada malam rondaan tersebut, iaitu sekitar 300 kaki (91 meter) dari paras laut. Hanya pengalaman dan kecekapan para juruterbang sahaja yang menjadi benteng di antara kejayaan operasi dan tragedi.

Begitu juga dengan para pegawai dan anggota Maritim Malaysia negeri Pulau Pinang dan KM Malawali yang terpaksa berhadapan dengan kemungkinan bahaya serangan balas daripada para pelaku kesalahan yang terdesak untuk meloloskan diri. Anda lihatlah sendiri aksi kejar-mengejar pada malam 3 Disember 2020 di perairan Pulau Pinang dan perhatikan sendiri bagaimana mereka sanggup membahayakan diri supaya kita dapat lena diulit mimpi.

Kejadian kejar-mengejar di antara bot penyeludup dadah dan bot Maritim Malaysia di perairan Gertak Sanggul dan Teluk Kumbar, Pulau Pinang pada 3 Disember 2020.

MMEA’s Baptism of Fire

The two Vietnamese fishing vessels that had attacked the MMEA’s patrol craft

The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) recently experienced its baptism of fire literally when one of its patrol craft came under attack from Vietnamese fishermen on board two fishing vessels. Early today, an Indonesian smuggler was shot dead in a scuffle with an MMEA personnel.

Incident with the Vietnamese fishermen

The incident involving the Vietnamese fishermen occured some 81 nautical miles from Tok Bali, Kelantan, inside the Malaysian Maritime Zone. This is equivalent to the distance where most of our offshore drilling platforms are located – 150 kilometers from the mouth of the Tok Bali river.. It also means that the Vietnamese fishing vessels were most definitely far from their own waters. They are known to have gone as far south as the Indonesian Natuna islands and have recently rammed several boats from the Indonesian Department of Fisheries to avoid being detained.

Not only that, towards the end of April of last year, two Vietnamese Coast Guard vessels rammed an Indonesian navy vessel in order to stop the latter from detaining several Vietnamese fishing vessels.

In the previous Sunday’s incident, they waited for the seven-men crew of the ‘Penyelamat 7’ to come close to their vessel before ramming their boat, throwing objects including iron blocks, wrenches, sharpened iron rods, cooking gas tank and others at the boat and crew. They have also prepared diesel bombs in several barrels on board their vessel which they threw at the boat with the intention of destroying it and its crew. In defence, the crew fired several warning shots to deter the crew of the fishing vessel from intentionally hindering the enforcement from boarding and inspecting. Still, they did not stop. The consequence, unfortunately, is in the form of a dead Vietnamese fisherman.

Incident with Indonesian smugglers

Near Tanjung Sedili early today, the MMEA foiled an attempt to smuggle exotic birds, the White-Rumped Shama and the Magpie Robin, by Indonesian smugglers using two fibreglass speedboats. The MMEA managed to stop the first boat and detained three Indonesian men aged between 40 to 62 and discovered about 90 cages filled with the birds mentioned.

A second boat arrived unaware that the first boat had been detained. An MMEA personnel jumped on board in an attempt to stop it. The boatman accelerated away in a dangerous manner where he tried to ram the MMEA patrol boat. A struggle ensued between the boatman and the enforcement officer where the former had tried to seize the latter’s weapon. Warning shots were fired by the other enforcement officers but this too was ignored, and a decision was made to use reasonable force to stop the smugglers from harming the enforcement officer on board their boat. A shot was fired and one of the smugglers was hit, and later pronounced dead on arrival at the Tanjung Sedili Medical Centre.

Formation of the MMEA

The men of the MMEA were just doing their job under but not limited to Section 7(2)(b) and Section 7(2)(d) of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Act, 2004 which allows them to board any vessel with the purpose of inspecting and searching, and investigate any offence that is being committed, or about to be committed, or has been committed. The 19 Vietnamese fishermen as well as the Indonesian smugglers that have been detained are now being investigated especially under Sections 307 and/or 186 of the Penal Code for the attempt to murder and for obstructing public servants from carrying out their duties.

The formation of the MMEA was mooted in 1999 and tabling of the MMEA bill was made in Parliament in 2004. Prior to its formation, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was managed in a sectoral manner by 11 government agencies and departments, involving 5,000 personnel and more than 400 vessels of all types. A singular and dedicated approach was required, leaning towards the roles of a coast guard, as both an enforcement agency as well as combatant in times of war – in other words, it is a paramilitary body. It in not any different than the Royal Malaysian Police’s General Operations Force (PGA). But unlike the police, the MMEA has the power to investigate and prosecute.

The MMEA acquired hand-me-down assets from the various marine departments and agencies, some of which are already in their 60s. Although procurements of new vessels have been made, the bulk of vessels patrolling our waters are more than 30 years old. Not only that, the numbers are not sufficient to cover the operations. Larger but older vessels need regular maintenance for them to be able to operate continually. Hence, smaller boats that are not meant for long-distance patrols and have no on-station endurance have to be employed.

In Dire Need of Newer and Suitable Assets

It was probably based on this knowledge that the fishing vessels involved in the recent incident were armed with improvised weapons meant to cause the destruction of these smaller patrol boats. Imagine what would have happened to the brave crew of the 20-meter Penyelamat 7 had their boat sunk that day. Desperate to not lose their livelihood if caught, these fishermen would do anything at all to avoid arrest. In April 1993, a Royal Malaysian Navy personnel whom had boarded a fishing vessel off Pulau Kapas in Terengganu was kidnapped, possibly after being overpowered, and was never found. I was made to understand that this almost happened to the men of the MMEA.

We need to understand that these fishing vessels work in packs of several vessels per pack. The MMEA would have to spread itself really thin to follow these packs. When a boarding party has successfully boarded a vessel, the MMEA patrol boat will then go after the other boat. Now imagine this: each fishing vessel is crewed by about ten men. Each Penyelamat-class boat has a crew of about eight. How many MMEA personnel can be put on each fishing vessel safely if they are not to be overpowered, and if there are three or four fishing vessels in a pack? In the case of the Penyelamat 7, it would have taken two hours and 40 minutes for another fast MMEA boat travelling at a speed of 30 knots to get to their location. In those two hours and 40 minutes, they would have to rely on sheer guts and luck to stay safe while facing 40 desperate and determined men.

Therefore, it is imperative that the government equip the MMEA with more purpose-built assets which are newer, larger and faster, to replace the current older ones as well as boats that are not built for long-range patrols. As its name suggests, the Penyelamat 7 was built for search-and-rescue operations, not enforcement. The MMEA would also be needing mobile floating bases – perhaps converted merchant vessels that can house extra crew, the Special Task and Rescue (STAR) team with a helicopter and fast Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boats to act as a logistics ship for the MMEA patrol vessels as well as back ups for its patrol vessels. This way, patrol vessels will have a longer range and patrol endurance to intercept the packs.

Faster and capable patrol boats also need to be acquired for anti-piracy and anti-smuggling operations especially in the Johor waters and the Strait of Melaka.

The Vietnamese fishing fleets are known to be accompanied by a ‘mothership’ so that they can fish far from their waters, while the Indonesia smugglers and pirates are only a short hop away, able to carry out hit-and-run raids quickly if left unchecked. It is about time the government becomes serious about the matter and better equip the MMEA as any paramilitary force should be equipped.